Sebald. Again. (Part 1) (Panel)


German / Comparative Literature

Michael Powers (Macalester College)

Benjamin Brand (University of Pittsburgh)

“Certain things, as I am increasingly becoming aware, have a way of returning unexpectedly [unverhofft und unvermutet], often after a lengthy absence,” Sebald writes at the end of the first narration of The Emigrants/Die Ausgewanderten. Throughout Sebald’s stories, “things” insistently return, most prominently as flashes of memory triggered by chance encounters, uncanny images, and echoes of the past. The unexpected return of that which has decayed, been repressed or forgotten forms a central motif across Sebald’s writings, texts which obsessively double back, and in doing so, illuminate the processes of repetition by which meaningful constellations emerge from the continuous abrasion between history, nature, and literature.

20 years after the author’s death, we find ourselves caught in a comparable state of obsessive return: “They are ever returning to us,” Sebald’s texts. However, increasingly our attention is drawn not only to the recursive gesture of Sebald’s stories, but also to the modes, figures, and tropes by which things reappear. The description of the return, “unverhofft und unvermutet,” transforms into one word in the English translation: “unexpectedly.” “Unverhofft” – unhoped for – emphasizes an ambivalent relationship to the thing’s return, while “unvermutet” stresses its unpredictability. Reduced to a single term, the translation hides a complex relation between three distinct signifiers presented as virtual doublings of one another. Even in these words, things return not as themselves.

This panel seeks to return to Sebald, again, to explore the unexpected and unpredictable in his texts. We encourage proposals for papers that look at:

· the affective qualities that attend acts of Sebaldian returning

· neglected intertexts or unexpected comparisons

· marginal and marginalized characters within Sebald’s work

· the role of nonhuman actors, animals, nature, and inanimate objects

· and all those things that we are not able to predict

This panel seeks to engage, again, with the Sebaldian motif of returning with a special emphasis on the unexpected and, at times, unhoped for quality of that which returns, repeats, and echoes throughout his texts. We encourage proposals for papers that examine tropes, figures, and instances of return in the following areas: the role of natural and nonhuman actors; the resonance of neglected intertexts or unexpected comparisons; the significance of marginal and marginalized characters within Sebald’s work; and other unexpected avenues that return us to Sebald’s texts.